Folklore is the body of verbal expressive culture, including tales, legends, oral history, proverbs, jokes, popular beliefs current among a particular population, comprising the oral tradition of that culture, subculture, or group. The academic and usually ethnographic study of folklore is known as folkloristics.
The concept of folklore developed as part of the 19th century ideology of romantic nationalism, leading to the reshaping of oral traditions to serve modern ideological goals; only in the 20th century did ethnographers begin to attempt to record folklore without overt political goals. The Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm Grimm|Wilhelm and Jakob Grimm, collected orally transmitted German tales and published the first series as Kinder- und Hausmärchen ("Children's and Household Tales") in 1812.
The term was coined in 1846 by an Englishman, William Thoms, who wanted to use an Anglo-Saxon term for what was then called "popular antiquities." Johann Gottfried von Herder first advocated the deliberate recording and preservation of folklore to document the authentic spirit, tradition, and identity of the German people; the belief that there can be such authenticity is one of the tenets of the romantic nationalism which Herder developed. The definition most widely accepted by current scholars of the field is "artistic communication in small groups," coined by Dan Ben-Amos a scholar at the University of Pennsylvania, and the term, and the associated field of study, now include non-verbal art forms and customary practices.
The study of folklore
While folklore can contain religious or mythic elements, it typically concerns itself with the mundane traditions of everyday life. Folklore frequently ties the practical and the esoteric into one narrative package. It has often been conflated with mythology, and vice versa, because it has been assumed that any figurative story that does not pertain to the dominant beliefs of the time is not of the same status as those dominant beliefs. Thus, Roman religion is called "myth" by Christians. In that way, both myth and folklore have become catch-all terms for all figurative narratives which do not correspond with the dominant belief structure. Sometimes "folklore" is religious in nature, like the tales of the Welsh Mabinogion or those found in Icelandic skaldic poetry. Many of the tales in the Golden Legend of Jacob de Voragine also embody folklore elements in a Christian context: examples of such Christian mythology are the themes woven round Saint George or Saint Christopher. In this case, the term "folklore" is being used in a pejorative sense. That is, while the tales of Odin the Wanderer have a religious value to the Norse who composed the stories, because it does not fit into a Christian configuration it is not considered "religious" by Christians who may instead refer to it as "folklore."
On the other hand, folklore can be used to accurately describe a figurative narrative, which has no sacred or religious content. In the Jungian view, which is but one method of analysis, it may instead pertain to unconscious psychological patterns, instincts or archetypes of the mind. This lore may or may not have components of the fantastic (such as magic, ethereal beings or the personification of inanimate objects). These folktales may or may not emerge from a religious tradition, but nevertheless speak to deep psychological issues. The familiar folklore, "Hansel and Gretel," is an example of this fine line. The manifest purpose of the tale may primarily be one of mundane instruction regarding forest safety or secondarily a cautionary tale about the dangers of famine to large families, but its latent meaning may evoke a strong emotional response due to the widely-understood themes and motifs such as “The Terrible Mother”, “Death,” and “Atonement with the Father.” There can be both a moral and psychological scope to the work, as well as entertainment value, depending upon the nature of the teller, the style of the telling, the ages of the audience members, and the overall context of the performance. Folklorists generally resist universal interpretations of narratives and, wherever possible, analyze oral versions of tellings in specific contexts, rather than print sources, which often show the work or bias of the writer or editor.
Contemporary folklore common in the Western world includes the urban legend and the conspiracy theory. There are many forms of folklore that are so common, however, that most people do not consider them to be folklore, such as riddles, children's rhymes and ghost stories, rumors, gossip, ethnic stereotypes, and holiday customs and life-cycle rituals. UFO abduction narratives can be seen, in some sense, to refigure the tales of pre-Christian Europe, or even such tales in the Bible as the Ascent of Elijah to heaven. Adrienne Mayor, in introducing a bibliography on the topic, noted that most modern folklorists are largely unaware of classical parallels and precedents, in materials that are only partly represented by the familiar designation Aesopica: "Ancient Greek and Roman literature contains rich troves of folklore and popular beliefs, many of which have counterparts in modern contemporary legends" (Mayor, 2000).
Categories of folklore
In mathematics and some related disciplines, the term folklore is used to refer to any result in a field of study which is widely known by practitioners of that field, but considered too trivial or unoriginal to be worth publishing by itself in the research literature. Such results often have to wait for a new textbook on the subject, or a survey article, before they appear in print.
For further reading
From Wikipedia, retrieved june 16 2006